Monday, July 23, 2007

Summertime and the Power of Peppermint

It's lazy summertime here in Iowa City. No wait—it's more like, "Here I am, being lazy during the summer, in Iowa City." Regardless, it seems to be time for another blog post but most of my topics are cynical, political, or otherwise educationally augmentative, and these are just not the moods I want to portray for the summer. Hence, I pulled out a dated Washington Post article on testing entitled: The Power of Peppermint is Getting Put to the Test.

This article is about a principal in Silver Spring, Maryland, (gas prices have struck the Post just has they have the rest of us) who purchased peppermint candies for her students such that, "Along with smart teaching, careful preparation, a good night's sleep, and a full stomach, peppermint candies are said to improve test performance." Who would have thought? My guess is that if such information gets out, we are likely to have a shortage of peppermint just like we often have to order extra large print booklets because someone started a rumor that students did better on a test when it was presented in large print.

Principal Boucher went on to say:
"...millions of sites claimed that peppermint were the perfect midpoint snack for things like testing."
Now, before you start making fun of me for making fun of Principal Boucher, note that the Post cites evidence that this might not be as far fetched as it may sound. According to the Post article, research from the University of Cincinnati in the 1990's found that a whiff of peppermint helped test subjects concentrate and do better on tests! The psychology professor that helped conduct the research claims that there is more than a little bit of truth in the "peppermint theory." Dr. Joel Warm claims:
"Not only do you get an improvement (in focus) with peppermint, you get a change in response that affects alertness in target direction."
I am not sure what Principal Boucher found out after her test results came back. My guess is that if the scores were up, she will make claims about her wonderful teachers and their great school, but if the scores were down, it will be because the peppermint did not work. I might call her to followup, but as a colleague pointed out, perhaps a nationally funded, double-blind research study would be better!

Have a happy, safe, and productive summer!